Plantation course at Kapalua Resort a worthy PGA Tour host

By Tom LaMarre, Contributor

Kapalua Bay hotel Plantation CourseKAPALUA, Hawaii - It was Arnold Palmer who put Kapalua on the map, not Tiger Woods and Ernie Els, who simply rewrote it in boldface type.

Palmer was the architect of the first two golf courses created at the Kapalua Resort on Maui - the Bay Course, which opened in 1975, and the Village, which came along five years later.

They were followed by the renowned Plantation Course, designed by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, which opened in 1989.

The Plantation Course made its reputation in the Lincoln Mercury Kapalua Invitational, an unofficial PGA Tour event, long before Woods and Els waged perhaps the greatest battle on Maui since Kamehameha the Great defeated the Valley Island's warriors on the cliffs of the Iao Valley in 1790 to unite Hawaii once and for all.

But Woods and Els took advantage of that great stage of the technological age, international television, in the second year the PGA Tour moved its season-opening Mercedes Championships to Kapalua.

"The Lincoln Mercury was a nice event, but we went from the opening event of the unofficial PGA Tour season to the opening event of the official season," said Gary Planos, vice president of resort operations and tournament director of the Mercedes Championships. "The difference is light years.

"It's the first tournament of the year, it's on national television in prime time, it has an elite field of winners only and next year it will lead right into to the Super Bowl. It's been great exposure for our resort. Anyone who comes here wants to play where Tiger and Ernie played."

That would be the daunting 663-yard 18th hole, which can be reached with two long, precise shots because it plays dramatically downhill toward the ocean with the prevailing wind.

Kapalua Golf ResortEls and Woods were tied for the lead going to the final hole in the 2000 Mercedes. Both made eagle to force a playoff, starting on the 18th, where both made birdie and continued on to the first hole.

There, Woods sank a dramatic 35-foot downhill putt to win the tournament.

"Not only is the 18th a great hole, it's perfectly positioned to provide a great finish," Planos said. "It's come right down to the wire there each year we've had the tournament. (In 2002), Sergio Garcia beat David Toms in a playoff on the 18th.

"It's such a great arena there around the green. With the skyboxes and the room we have around the green, we can have 10,000 people right on top of the action, and on television it looks like an even bigger crowd. It leaves a lasting impression with people who are watching."

Another memorable hole on the Plantation Course is the 203-yard eighth, which plays across a canyon of natural vegetation to a green that slopes from back to front, with a series of traps in the back to catch shots by those who use an extra club or two to ensure they carry the precipice.

Hit your tee shot short and you need a new ball.

Ernie Els"There's no question it's an intimidating hole, even from the 180-yard tee," said Marty Keiter, director of golf and tennis at Kapalua. "But it's a challenge recreational golfers want, to try to hit the same shots they see the pros hit on television.

"There usually isn't much wind there, so if you hit a good tee shot you have a chance to make birdie or par."

The Plantation is definitely the jewel of Kapalua, designed with extra-wide fairways because of the trade winds, but there is plenty of challenge to be found on the Village and Bay courses.

The Bay Course plays mostly on a plateau just above the Pacific, with two holes right on the water. The Village climbs 750 feet into the West Maui Mountains to an idyllic spot where two holes play through Cook pines alongside a freshwater lake.

"Even though the Plantation Course is the best-known of the three, we still have more rounds played every year on the Bay Course," Keiter said. "The Bay is the course where people are most likely to play to their handicap.

"The Village Course is our sleeper. People who have come here for years but never played it are amazed what's up there once they do. You can see the ocean from every hole."

Kapalua Bay hotelWhen a new clubhouse opened at the Village Course in 2000, the 18th hole became No. 1, playing downhill almost to the ocean.

However, the dramatic 465-yard hole, with the green guarded by a lake on the right side, had to be shortened to 211 yards.

"There were too many tee shots being hit onto the grounds of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel," Keiter said. "But that's okay. It was a great par four before, but now I think it's a great par three."

At the top of the hill, the 345-yard sixth with the lake on the right is a sharp dogleg left on which the driver is best kept in the bag.

The tee shot on the 367-yard sixth hole at the top of the course carries severely down the hill through a chute of towering Cook pines and the short-iron approach is tricky because it is downhill and downwind, with the pin often tucked close to the lake.

"You can also have a downhill lie if you go past the plateau in the fairway," Keiter said. "It's a short shot, but if you hit it too short, it gets wet."

On the Bay Course, the 357-yard fourth hole is a short but deceptive par four with a large bunker waiting for shots trying to cut the corner, pushed that way by the prevailing wind off the ocean.

It's followed by the 205-yard fifth, which sits on a lava promontory and is perhaps the most scenic hole at Kapalua, and requires a tee shot with a tailwind over Oneola Bay. Three traps guard the green.

The Bay Course"Those are our only two holes that are right on the ocean," Keiter said. "No. 4 is a great short par four, with the ocean on the right and lava rocks on the left. The tee shot on the fifth is intimidating, but with the wind most people go long and that's better than short."

Golf instruction at Kapalua Resort

If your game needs some work while you are at Kapalua, you came to the right place. One condition the PGA Tour had before committing to Kapalua was a new driving range, so the Kapalua Golf Academy-with 85,000-square-feet of grass tee area-was born.

And Kapalua has the right man in charge, Jerry King, two-time Hawaii PGA State Teaching Pro of the Year.

"It's not one way or the highway at the Kapalua Golf Academy, but we do have a guideline all of our teaching pros follow," said King, who is working on a book and CD-ROM called Golf for Life. "We call it BPGA: Ball position, posture, grip and alignment. We feel about 95% of the problems for golfers fall into those categories.

"We feel one mistake causes a domino effect in the swing. We don't focus on the effect, we work on the cause. The videotaping bay is our pride and joy. We have over $30,000 of video equipment, with four camera angles. And our facility overlooks Honolua Bay, the biggest surfing spot on Maui, at the end of the Molokai Channel."

When your golf day is finished at Kapalua, there is a myriad of other activities available if you are staying at the Ritz Carlton or Kapalua Bay hotels, or in the Kapalua Villas.

Kaanapali Beach HotelThe beach at the Kapalua Bay Hotel has been chosen one of the best in the world by the Travel Channel and Dr. Beach.

"The entire Kapalua property is tough to beat," said Cany Aluli, public relations manager for the Kapalua Bay Hotel. "The Ritz is the larger of the hotels, with a more formal feeling. The Bay Hotel is more laid back, more of a boutique hotel.

"The Mercedes Championships brings everybody together-people at the golf courses, the hotels and restaurants, and the shops. In fact, all of Maui gets involved. We like to point out that the winner has stayed at the Bay Hotel every year except when Tiger won."

The concierge desk at the hotels can arrange tennis at Kapalua's two world-class facilities, scuba diving, snorkeling, helicopter tours, horseback riding, kayaking or sight-seeing tours to the dormant volcano on Mt. Haleakala and the sleepy hamlet of Hana.

Kapalua has several options for fine dining, with the Plantation House Restaurant overlooking its showcase golf course, Jameson's at the Bay Course, Fleming's on the Green at the Village Course, the Bay Club, the Gardenia Court and the Plumeria Terrace at the Bay Hotel and the Anuenue Room and the Banyan Tree at the Ritz-Carlton.

There also is world-class shopping at the Kapalua Shops and down the road at the Lahaina Cannery Mall and at Whaler's Village in Kaanapali.

Kaanapali Beach HotelIt was at Kaanapali that Bob Charles of New Zealand, the 1963 British Open champion, helped get the little white ball rolling on Maui with what has become a classic episode of "Shell's Wonderful World of Golf" that same year. And in 1965 Palmer and Jack Nicklaus won the Canada Cup (now the World Cup) on the North Course.

Kaanapali has fallen on hard times with the financial problems of its parent company, AMFAC, which lost the Senior PGA Tour's Kaanapali Classic in 2000 after 14 years and is now in receivership.

But the Tournament North and Resort South courses, which fell into a bit of disrepair in the last few years, have rebounded with the arrival of a new staff that includes Ed Kageyama, a PGA pro who was appointed by the courts as consultant to the receivership.

"I heard all the horror stories the last few years, but I played the North Course recently and it was in fine shape," said Barry Helle, marketing manager of the Wailea Golf Resort on the other side of Maui. "I'm impressed with the people they have in there now.

"Kaanapali has a good product that is a great asset to Maui and I'm glad to see them coming back."

There are plenty of places to stay in Kaanapali, long one of the world's top golf destinations, including the venerable Royal Lahaina Resort, the Sheraton Maui, the Hyatt Regency Maui, the Kaanapali Beach Hotel and the Marriott Maui-not to mention countless condominiums.

Kaanapali is a good spot to make a base for playing golf on both sides of the island, including the Wailea and Makena resorts on the South side, or points in between such as the Dunes at Maui Lani, Sandalwood Golf Course or Pukalani Country Club in the Up Country.

You can even make a day trip to the island of Lanai to play the Challenge at Manele, designed by Nicklaus, or the Experience at Koele, designed by Greg Norman.

Tom LaMarre, Contributor

Tom LaMarre has been a sportswriter and copy editor in California for parts of five decades, including 15 years with the Oakland Tribune and 22 with the Los Angeles Times.


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